WARNER-PATHS have brought off a very welcome double in the form of two refreshingly human and well-acted comedies. Both are also distinguished by the excellent professional performances of their leading-men: Jack Lemmon in the kind of comedy he has made his speciality, James Mason notching up another triumph in the quite exciting development of his maturity as an actor.
It is a surprise to find Mr. Mason in Spring and Port Wine ("A," Paramount) as the martinet father of a fairly happy Lancashire family, a slightly lesser Barrett transferred from Wimpole Street to Bolton. This is, of course, Bill Naughton's own screenplay of his stage success. The film seems to operate at various levels of time.
Rafe Crompton (lames Mason), the kind of parent who orders a herring to be brought back at every meal until his grown-up daughter Hilda (Susan George) eats it, is a figure of Victorian melodrama.
The beautifully photographed Bolton locations take us back five or six years to the time when every film and television play seemed to have a North Country accent. The problems of some of the younger Cromptons dare to come a little nearer contemporary moods.
More importantly Bill Naughton's skill in this same idiom and his well-known gifts of human warmth succeed most of the time in pulling everything together and giving it a fresh lease of life, though occasionally the cracks of its stage origin show through the fabric of the film. The teamwork of the cast is fine. I especially liked Hannah Gordon and Susan George as the two daughters and Diana Coupland's stunning performance as Mum, all notably well directed by Peter Hammond. The mother is an interesting character, too, her proverbial maternal calm stretched over nerves cracking for terror of the husband whose devotion she doesn't doubt.
But the whole cast, like the whole family, is dominated by James Mason's father-figure. Mr. Mason has always been an intelligent and resourceful actor who has managed never to become stereotyped. In middle-age he has turned this into a degree of versatility very rare in film acting and seems to go from strength to strength surprising us with each new change of style—Brutus, Trigorin, Rommel, the beachcombing artist in the South seas.
Mason has really mastered the craft of creating characters, not just putting them on. So, here, it is not only his comedy timing which is so proficient but what he reveals of the human variousness which turns a devoted husband and father into a tyrant. One of Mason's great assets is that he evidently still regards it as part of an actor's normal equipment to be able to "do" different accents.
Jack Lemmon settled for comedy long ago. In The April Fools ("A," Studio One) he has found a piece of nonsense to take him right back into the escapist kind of crazy comedy fairy tale. In the beautiful Catherin Deneuve he finds a co-star on the upgrade.
They play two misfits, he a nonentity with a wife too busy to notice him, she a beauty bored by her rich husband (Peter Lawford). Their chance encounter leads them into an idle evening at a hair-raisingly horrible "Safari Club." In a powder room somewhere a strange lady speaks to her, and proves to be none other than Myrna Loy, some 30 years older, but with all the charm she had in "Thin Man" days._
As a wholly eccentric French couple, Miss Loy and Charles Boyer make perfect fairy godparents for this kind of adventure. Miss Loy waved her wand for me, too, and kept me under her spell for most of the absurd picture, though it was sad she left it so soon. I could have done without the hero's escort to the pumpkin plane, and it would be difficult to find a moral in the whole affair.
I can't refrain from recommending Kes ("U") to readers in Doncaster or any of the Northern towns the film may reach before it gets to London. When it does so, I shall hope to review it more fully. But this lovely film of a little boy's attachment to the kestrel-hawk he trains and loves is the kind of film most of us would like more of, and certainly cannot afford to miss.